The elasticity of digital publishing can give new life to the shorter form, as DJ Taylor discovered
I wasn't sure what to make of From the Heart, DJ Taylor's digital novella about a corporate insolvency practitioner going through an early midlife crisis at the end of the last century. With its quaint descriptions of cheating partners betrayed by a cache of letters, City workers just about able to get away with two glasses of pinot at lunch, and five-bedroom houses in Hackney going for £250,000, was this an exercise in wry nostalgia or a genuine period piece, dusted off and given a new lease of life online?
"Andrew Rosenheim, the head of Kindle Singles, called my agent and asked him if I happened to have an unpublished novella in a bottom drawer," recalls Taylor. "As a matter of fact, I did."
Taylor wrote From the Heart in the rainy autumn of 2000, drawing on the knowledge he'd gleaned as a corporate copywriter. It was almost published, but circumstances conspired and the 40,000-word manuscript might never have seen the light of day had Amazon not phoned. Although he worries about Amazon's impact on the book industry, likening it to a "giant squid", Taylor is delighted his ebook is out there.
At 120 pages, From the Heart is more substantial than some Kindle Singles, which can leave readers short-changed. Characters are given room to develop and there's space for a neat plot. One of Amazon's few editorial interventions was to swap around the final and penultimate parts, giving the story a more satisfying ending.
The elasticity of digital publishing lends itself to novellas, which are a notoriously hard sell unless your name is Barnes or McEwan. In common with those authors' shorter works, From the Heart is a quietly passionate tale of lost love and thwarted ambition. A pleasingly old-fashioned, very English ebook.
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